“The Need to Be Out of Place” by Marvin Shackelford


Tolson arrives from the future to find his mother younger than he is and downtown with a man he thinks may grow up to be his high school gym coach. He can’t tell without the mustache and ball cap, the screaming. He’s in shorts and a t-shirt, looks somewhere between lighting a cigarette and breaking into a sprint. They hold hands and cross against a stoplight, happy. Smiles and giggles. Something a little more. A secret. Around her neck dangles a thick silver chain run through a mysterious gold ring, male and unknown to Tolson. It’s huge and never would fit her fingers.
Across town his father will wait in the basement of his parents’ church, Catholic, and recite prayers to absolve him of uncommitted crimes. He’ll steal a crowbar from the rectory’s garage and cease all locks. He is a holy terror. He is alone. He will meet Tolson’s mother in the dark of a house that should have been empty, and when he stops to talk, explains the need to be out of place but carries nothing away from her home, Tolson falls into place. His father stands at the foot of the stairs and forever climbs. His mother descends. It’s several years before they meet at a landing where their lives turn and they pass, just keep going. She crashes to the ground. He becomes the sky, a storm. Raging. Tolson too far behind, come too late to catch up and help. Until now.
There on the street he readies himself to chase her down, catch her when her boyfriend has stepped away. They dip into stores, exit again. They weave, sober and happy. Tolson never knew this woman, his mother not his mother. He wants to sidle close, rest a hand on her elbow, tell her not to go home. Not to be a fool. He understands what it would mean for him, knows the ramifications at least in part. He thinks it’s worth it. There’s only so much time, so many mistakes to be made. You cannot believe, he’ll tell her. You cannot trust every honest voice in your dark home.



Marvin Shackelford is author of Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. He resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture. Tweets @WorderFarmer.

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